3 Things a Competitive Video Game Taught Me about Virtual Teams

bigstock-135993056 As strange as it may seem, a virtual workplace team can learn a lot from online competitive video games.  For both, team members have set roles, clear and shared goals, and a designated action plan to achieve those goals. And also for both, communication is absolutely paramount.

One such game that is wildly popular is Overwatch, a game that is highly role based and teamwork dependent. A group of six players face off against another group of six, escorting a payload to its destination on some maps or capturing a designated space in others.

Overwatch reportedly has 15 million players worldwide. Its popularity is partly due to the fact that in upper-tier play, massive amounts of teamwork, skill, and strategic thinking are required to be successful. This is a game that’s easy to learn but hard to master—where working together as a cohesive team takes precedence over your individual numbers.

I play Overwatch regularly—not just in casual mode but also in competitive mode. In competitive mode, every match will affect not only your ranking but also the rankings of the other players on your team. This can, of course, be frustrating if you lose games and your rank is decreased simply because you are paired up with other players who do not work well in a team.

One night I was playing with a mix of friends and random individuals. Normally, we would call out if we saw an enemy player attempting to flank or if we wanted to focus fire on one enemy player, but the communication wasn’t happening during that particular game for some reason. Perhaps it was because we were tired from having played a few games already and it was later in the night. We ended up losing that game and one of my friends became upset. He singled out one of the random players, questioning why he had not communicated with the rest of the team. The called team member became flustered and didn’t know how to respond. I tried to compliment his performance in-game, despite the lack of communication, but my friend persisted. Then another friend said she needed to call it a night and signed off, so we all did the same.

Reflecting on this incident, I realized some of the lessons learned could be applied to virtual teams:

  1. Communicate. Be sure to communicate frequently with other members of the team. The more information the team has, the better decisions your team members will make. Take the initiative—make it part of the team culture to share your progress on tasks. Effective communication is key for any team to function at a high level.
  2. Ask the right questions. When things don’t go your way, it’s natural to want to ask why it happened—but this typically puts others on the defensive. Instead, ask “What could we have done better?” Ask for ideas, use the word we to reinforce your commitment to being a team, and be descriptive, not judgmental.
  3. Be positive. Focusing on the negative brings the rest of the team down. Don’t be that person. Be the person other team members want to communicate with and be around. Focus on the small wins, the learning opportunities, and the things that went well. Sharing your dedication to learning and growth will encourage others to do the same.

If you’d like to learn more about Overwatch, this video provides more details.

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